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What’s in a (brand) name?

Visiting different countries gives me the opportunity of experiencing different shopping environments, unfamiliar brands and product categories, and things that would make me go, “Hmm…” Because I still watch linear TV in Australia (as do millions of viewers around the world!), it’s always exciting for me to also watch local TV when I travel – for the programs and for the ads. Even if I can’t understand the local lingo.

I was working from my accommodation in London a couple of years ago when I heard a familiar jingle from TV with the phrase “Did somebody say … ?”. Being familiar with the jingle and the catchphrase, I was expecting the next word in the song to be “Menulog”, and yet the brand that was chirpily mentioned was “Just Eat”. I subsequently found out that Just Eat bought the homegrown Menulog in Australia in 2015, and rather than rebranding it, the parent company decided to dress the brand with the same ad and the same elements as the parent brand.

Through snooping around, I discovered that for each of their ad campaigns, there’s a Grubhub version in the US, a Menulog version for Australia, a Just Eat version, and a Lieferando version in Germany – still with the same jingle and the same branding look-and-feel. As with a lot of things, it piqued my curiosity.

Then last year I saw the toothpaste packaging that I recognised in the US – but with the brand name that was unfamiliar: Parodontax. In 2018, I spent three months in London and discovered Corsodyl, a brand of toothpaste. The Parodontax packaging is very similar to Corsodyl‘s. They both belong to the same parent company (GSK, and subsequently Haleon). Similarly, rather than having a uniform brand name after the company acquiring Parodontax, it was decided to keep both brand names, but with similar branding look-and-feel.

The last example is peculiar to those visiting Australia — if you are a fan of Whopper and Burger King in the US, you will need to get used to the chain being called Hungry Jack’s. The story goes that in 1971 when Burger King entered Australia, there was a local restaurant called Burger King, so rather than engaging in a legal fight, the company decided to call the chain Hungry Jack’s. The brand has a similar branding look-and-feel to Burger King, so those visiting from overseas are likely to sense the familiarity.

These are not isolated cases: Lynx deodorant in Australia is called Axe in the US. Street’s ice cream brands in Australia are sold under the parent brand name Wall’s in Indonesia and Selecta in the Philippines. Street’s, Wall’s, and Selecta also come with the familiar heart-shaped branding. You can probably think of more examples of brands being sold under different names in other countries.

Of course, it is much more straightforward to keep the brand name consistent across countries. However, there are possible reasons why a company may need to sell the same brand under different names. It may be that the acquired local brand is already popular, so re-branding it to be aligned with an existing name in the portfolio may be risky (and costly). Upon entering the market, the brand name may have also been used already in the country — or that it may have an unsavoury translation in the local language.

These examples demonstrate the vital importance of Distinctive Brand Assets: the non-brand name elements that trigger category buyers to think of your brand. These include elements such as colours, logos, characters, jingles, fonts, pack shapes, and taglines/slogans. In these examples, it is almost not important that I remember whether it is Menulog or Just Eat, or whether it is Corsodyl or Parodontax. Recognising the ad or the pack itself is already enough for me to either strengthen Menulog’s mental availability – and in the case of the toothpaste, allowed me to purchase it although I was not familiar with the brand name. It is thus dangerous for multi-national companies allow the local management to have complete branding autonomy on their product portfolio. It can potentially create a situation where not only the brand names are different, but so are the branding elements – which would not benefit category buyers from other countries.

When I think about why it may not be that important for consumers to remember the brand name, as long as they remember the shortcuts to the brand, I remember things I used to do when I was a kid. When I accompanied my Mum to the market, she would sometimes ask me to get the cooking sauce or what-not from the shelves. Either I would remember what the bottle looked like, even if I did not or could not read the brand name, or my Mum would say, “Get the soy sauce with the peacock on the label and the one with the blue top”. This may be linked to the reasons why colours and images are important to us. They were our first learning aids when we were young. The human brain can reportedly process images in as little as 13 milliseconds – 60,000 times faster than text, and with the average attention span of eight seconds.

I’m not saying that the brand name is not important. Of course, it is. However, I would argue that the name is merely one of the avenues to the brand, along with the colours, logo, jingle, font, and pack shape that are arguably as important (if not more important!) as mental shortcuts. It is crucial for companies to know the important elements that need to be protected for the brand and what are truly their Distinctive Brand Assets. This would help deter any competitors who want to direct potential buyers to their brands by piggybacking on the shortcuts. The implications of knowing, protecting, and managing Distinctive Brand Assets are enormous! For the life of me, if you ask me what brand of hair product I use every morning, I would struggle to remember it, but ask me what the pack looks like, I can tell you quite accurately. We are all cognitive misers: we don’t want to think too hard. We allocate more thinking power to the things that matter — and brand names are just less important in the scheme of things.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” — William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet; Act 2 Scene 2.

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